Say My Name... Oluwafunmi...
One of the most important aspects of African Culture has always been the naming of a child. The name given is seen as a prayer of sorts with predictive meaning that is the name given will influence the child's life from the very beginning. The name in this blogs title 'Oluwafunmi' means 'God gave me' so in essence the child has been given to the parents by God. This name originates from the Yoruba tribe of western Nigeria. So this blogs title in English is ' Say my name... God gave me'. An apt title as this blog will focus on a peculiar phenomenon that exists in the African diaspora especially in the USA in regards to child naming and the God given desire for self definition.
Firstly, lets discuss how important names are to the Yoruba culture specifically. I am most familiar with the Yoruba culture, however, there are many other tribes in Africa and the all possess there own unique way of naming their little ones. The name of the child is usually kept a secret until 8 days after birth. On that 8th day, a ceremony is held with many of the family in attendance. At the ceremony, it all about prayers and tradition. Usually each side of the family ( father and mother) represented by the usually the patriarch gives the child names along with the childs parents. These names will have various meanings, traditional importance and represent the vision the families have for their new addition. Only then the name of the child is made public. Of course there is a party with plenty food and drinks.
With such importance given to naming a child, it is no surprise that despite the trial and tribulations the diaspora has experienced, the African cultural desire to define oneself by naming still exists. If you have ever watched Haleys Roots, the scene where the slave master insists with whipping that the main character 'Kunta Kente' call himself ,'Toby' is one of the most powerful and significant scenes from the 70's film. This scene represents the most lasting tragedy of slavery, the removal of culture even language and names.
Secondly, lets give context to the African diaspora experience. Since the trans-atlantic slave trade is the only example in human history of systematic involuntary removal of culture from a people, especially on such a massive scale, we must realize the effects of this unprecedented travesty are yet to be fully understood. Can the cultural void in the African diaspora created by cultural removal be filled, repleanished or can it cease to exist altogether? We see evidence of the former. The evidence points to the African diaspora doing anything to fill this cultural void. Using remnants of African culture that still persists and adding learned behaviour, interpretation and human instinct , a survival culture is born.
It is this survival culture that is born to fill a cultural void that still exists. The cultural human right to define oneself is personified in the many 'made up' names we find especially in the African American community. These names are usually made fun of... but we see them as great efforts to not be called 'Toby' or 'Chad' or 'Amy'... they should be celebrated. The names need to be 'made up' because exposure to the African diaspora original culture has been severed. So when I hear names like 'Laquisha', 'Ladonte' or ' 'Taykweon' I do not see 'ghetto culture' I see 'survival culture' and I am pleased.
There are many examples of African American self determination in naming but the more popular ones originate from the bigger movement of-religious self-determination . The nation of Islam provides the most famous acts of Self determination. Many African Americans during the civil rights movement saw naming of oneself as a key statement towards progress of the community at large. Examples of leaders that converted to Islam and changed their names include Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul Jabar.
I am pleased the human right to culturally define oneself is alive and well in my African diaspora brothers and sisters. I then wonder, if we will take the next step... which is to adopt African names... know the adopted names meanings and maybe even perform naming ceremonies. I have seen some examples of African Americans who have African names. Some with first and last names from places as far away both geographically and culturally as Nigeria and Uganda. Sometimes they know the meanings of their names and sometimes they don't. Either way they know that their name isnt 'Toby' and thats what matters most... to be called the name God gave me... Oluwafunmi